43 Movies Like Free Guy (2021)

Staff & contributors

When reminiscing about the film industry, most period films focus on the big names – the stars, the directors, and the producers that back them – as they’re more likely to have plenty of source material. Once Upon a Star is interested in the little people, the small town distributors that bring the movie magic to the locals. Centered on a cinema projection troupe, the film celebrates the old way of distribution, who, unlike today’s streaming, travel from place to place to set up outdoor cinemas with live dubbing. And through each projection of classic Thai masterpieces, the connection they have with each other, between both the troupe and the audience, recalls the intimate nostalgia of watching a movie together. It’s a unique take from director Nonzee Nimibutr, one that’s a stunning love letter to the film industry he hails from.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jirayu La-ongmani, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Nat Sakdatorn, Nuengthida Sophon, Samart Payakaroon, Sornchai Chatwiriyachai, Sukollawat Kanarot, Waratta Watcharatorn, Yothin Mapobphun

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr

Nat Geo is still the champion of pristine nature documentaries: the skies, the seas, the snow, and the coloring everywhere is divine. But the serene seaside in Scotland, combined with the reflective, poetic musings about love from Billy and Susan isn’t just cutesy light viewing. I’m confident it can heal an exhausted person. This documentary is a mesmerizing meditation on love and connection, on the things that unite people and other creatures. It might feel like a chunky 77 minutes, especially in the latter half given the pace it goes by, but it’s a warm experience that you instantly know you’ll want to revisit.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Billy Mail, Susan Mail

Director: Charlie Hamilton James

Rating: G

The debut feature by Palestine’s most well-known director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is an unusual movie about the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict in that it's closer to absurdist comedy than anything else. The only physical violence we see here are men cat-fighting in the street or arm-wrestling each other in cafes, and Israeli presence is limited to a couple of bumbling police officers. Chronicle is full of slapstick cinema touches — right down to the Buster Keaton-esque eyes of director Elia Suleiman, who appears here as a silent wanderer — and yet we feel the bitter reality of the occupation framing every deadpan gag. 

Structured as a series of vignettes, Chronicle’s loose form is both a way to depict the stagnation and dry repetition in which Palestinians are stuck and a wry metaphor for all this listlessness. Suleiman speaks plainly in some chapters — such as the one following a woman who is repeatedly turned down from renting an apartment in Jerusalem because she’s Arab — and more obliquely in others, forcing you to recall the movie’s setting to understand his often-understated commentary. A singular film from an utterly unique director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is both a portrait of a country’s erosion and a quietly defiant act of resistance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Fawaz Eilemi, Fuad Suleiman, Iaha Mouhamad, Jamel Daher, Juliet Mazzawi, Leonid Alexeenko, Nazira Suleiman, Ola Tabari, Ula Tabari

Director: Elia Suleiman

Even a straightforward documentary on the New York East Village visual artist David Wonjarowicz (pronounced VOY-nuh-ROH-vitch) would be thrilling, given the energy and the irreverence of his artworks especially during the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to the 1990s. But director Chris McKim goes above and beyond, essentially imagining how Wojnarowicz would have directed his own film. McKim treats the movie like a collage in itself, expertly blending footage and sound together not just to capture the artist's fury, but to remember how deeply he loved, transcending space and sickness. As an account of the underground New York art scene at the time, a profile on a supposed enfant terrible, and a tribute to all those who lost their lives to a disease accelerated by discrimination, Wojnarowicz is a beautiful, complex tapestry.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin

Director: Chris McKim

It’s hard to pin point exactly what makes this movie so good. It’s an all-around “movie” movie. I think it can be called a buddy comedy because it is about two best friends who are also movers. It’s about their day-to-day, their families and their relationships. They’re both from the underclass of Oakland, and one of them is black, the other is white. And that’s where it stops being a comedy and becomes a more hard-hitting film. It illustrates gentrification better than any other movie I’ve ever seen. It has relevant and striking commentary on the main characters’ race, upbringing, and identity. But at the end of the day, it has a great plot, and for the most part it’s an easy-flowing movie. It’s half entertainment, half social commentary, and both parts are equally well-done. It’s like movie unicorn, and it’s perfection. One of the two friends is played by Daveed Diggs, who you might know from Hamilton.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Aviel Ayoung, Carlos López Estrada, Casey Adams, Cassie Hendry, Charles Johnson, Chris Harding, Daveed Diggs, Dawayne Jordan, Eduardo Ambriz DeColosio, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Ethan Embry, Geoffrey Quan, George Watsky, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, John Lobato, Jon Chaffin, Jonathan Groff, Justin Chu Cary, Ke'Mari Moore, Kelli McCrann, Kendra Andrews, Kevin Carroll, Leland Orser, Margo Hall, Matt McAbee, Molly Shaiken, Nyambi Nyambi, Peter Fitzsimmons, Rafael Casal, Rashida Clendening, Rayna Angélique, Sean Michael McGrory, Steven Wiig, Tina Gilton, Tisha Campbell, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Travis Parker, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight, Zack Duhame

Director: Carlos López Estrada

Rating: R

The Last Duel propped high expectations as the Closing Film at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, but its theatrical release later that year proved to be a flop. Ridley Scott blamed it on millennials, but both critics and streaming audiences have been much more favorable than moviegoers. As a film, it's a rather monumental project: quite a dark period piece set in Medieval France, dealing with harsh and offensive themes. Or better said, it deals with ethics and morality through these harsh and offensive themes. There are many ways where this could have gotten wrong—and it's evident from the labels that have been circulating from the very beginning, that Scott has made his "MeToo" movie—but the truth is much more nuanced. From Eric Jager's 2004 book to a script co-written by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and (most importantly) the astute Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel is really the best of both worlds: action-packed and devoted to the right side of history.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Driver, Adam Nagaitis, Alex Lawther, Ben Affleck, Bosco Hogan, Brian F. Mulvey, Brontis Jodorowsky, Bryony Hannah, Caoimhe O'Malley, Chloe Harris, Christian Erickson, Clare Dunne, Clive Russell, Harriet Walter, Ian Pirie, Jodie Comer, John Kavanagh, Julian Firth, Marton Csokas, Matt Damon, Michael McElhatton, Nathaniel Parker, Oliver Cotton, Paul Bandey, Peter Hudson, Sam Hazeldine, Serena Kennedy, Shane Lynch, Simone Collins, Stephen Brennan, Tallulah Haddon, Thomas Silberstein, Tyrone Kearns, William Houston, Zeljko Ivanek, Zoé Bruneau

Director: Ridley Scott

Rating: R

Although Who We Are is essentially a professionally recorded masterclass interspersed with additional interviews, it only emphasizes Jeffery Robinson's skill as an orator and his compassion as a teacher. In a clear and levelheaded manner, he lays out how even the historical documents that formed the blueprint of the United States are exclusionary in key ways. Robinson does this not to condemn his country, but to challenge the way we view traditions as sacred, and to see how modern-day white nationalism is upheld by these institutions, intentionally or not. The new interviews that accompany Robinson's talk take these lessons on the road, reminding us of those who are directly affected by these centuries-old decisions.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jeffery Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr.

Director: Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler

, 2021

Minari is a film written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, about a Korean-American family in search of the so-called American Dream. It is an intimate drama that is powerful yet quiet, and filled with moments of innocence. With dreamlike scoring, unique characters, and a captivating climax, this movie tugs on the heartstrings, and serves as a great reminder of the beauty of gratitude.

Thanks to these, plus winning performances across the board, Minari earned plenty of nominations at the 2021 Oscars, with Youn Yuh-jung eventually bagging the Best Supporting Actress award—a monumental first for South Korea.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Alan Kim, Ben Hall, Chloe Lee, Darryl Cox, Debbi Tucker, Ed Spinelli, Eric Starkey, Ernie Robinson, Esther Moon, Han Yeri, Jacob Wade, James Carroll, Jenny Phagan, Kaye Brownlee-France, Noel Kate Cho, Scott Haze, Skip Schwink, Steven Yeun, Tina Parker, Warren Lane, Will Patton, Youn Yuh-jung

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Rating: PG-13

Only a few people in Dita’s house are related by blood, but you wouldn’t know that by how they move. They’re tight-knit but argumentative, loving at times but spiteful in other instances. In other words, they’re complicated just like any other family. Housekeeping for Beginners makes a compelling case for the validity—and at times necessity—of found families like Dita’s, who all found each other after being shunned by their race and sexuality. As in his previous works, Director Goran Stolevski paints a realistic and relevant portrait here, one tinted with striking pain and poignancy, bound to leave your heart aching long after the credits roll.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alina Serban, Anamaria Marinca, Bislim Muçaj, Blagoj Veselinov, Irena Ristić, Mia Mustafa, Rozafa Celaj, Samson Selim, Sara Klimoska, Vladimir Tintor

Director: Goran Stolevski

Rating: R

While best known for 1977 cult horror classic House, Nobuhiko Obayashi first dreamed of adapting Hanagatami, a 1937 novella by Kazuo Dan, and it was only until the later end of his life that he got to fulfill that dream. It’s possibly the reason why Hanagatami feels like a surreal set of memories, with Karatsu’s seaside portrayed with theatrical sets and back projection, with scenes flipped and unflipped ever so often, with Bach looped and mixed with dissonant chords and children singing. And as the teenagers of Karatsu try to cling to their innocence despite the looming possibility of death, Obayashi remembers the lives cut short, not in nostalgia, but in an anxious bid for us to remember humanity’s biggest failure.

Genre: Drama, Romance, War

Actor: Hirona Yamazaki, Honoka Yahagi, Kayoko Shiraishi, Keishi Nagatsuka, Kiyotaka Nanbara, Masahiro Takashima, Mugi Kadowaki, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Shunsuke Kubozuka, Takahito Hosoyamada, Takako Tokiwa, Takao Ito, Takehiro Murata, Tetsuya Takeda, Tokio Emoto, Tōru Shinagawa, Toshie Negishi, Tsurutaro Kataoka, Wakaba Irie, Yuriko Ono

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi

, 2021

Education is a human right, but for many girls around the world, this isn’t necessarily guaranteed– especially if they want to learn past the required years of basic education. Yuni is a coming-of-age drama that depicts a girl in West Java, Indonesia who wants to go to university, but due to the marriage and virginity culture in the area, her main problem isn’t having to pass the entrance exams, or figuring out how to get financial aid. Instead, it’s having to fend off marriage proposals that clearly don’t come from a place of love. Writer-director Kamila Andini depicts the titular protagonist with the freedoms rarely granted to a girl like her, with the happiness and belonging all girls should be able to find solace in, but she also depicts the casual ways oppression lingers in the background, with society just waiting to kill women’s dreams, hopes, and personal goals. Yuni is an honest and powerful portrait of many women around the globe.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne Yasmine, Arawinda Kirana, Asmara Abigail, Ayu Laksmi, Dimas Aditya, Kevin Ardilova, Marissa Anita, Mian Tiara, Muhammad Khan, Neneng Wulandari, Nova Eliza, Rukman Rosadi, Sekar Sari, Vania Aurellia

Director: Kamila Andini

Before her triumphant Oscar win for her role in Minari, Youn Yuh-jung starred in The Bacchus Lady as So-young, an aging sex worker strugglin to make ends meet. Youn brings a certain dignity to the role that’s rarely seen in typical depictions of sex work around the world. Her work isn't framed as something disgusting or immoral, but as something that's natural and normal. Writer-director E J-yong clearly sides with and respects the people that you don't normally see in K-dramas—characters that have been pushed aside in favor of the stereotypical “ideal” Korean. While meandering at times, the film's warm and bittersweet approach to these characters acts as a reprimand to Korean society on how they fail those at the margins.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chon Moo-song, Hyun-jun Choi, Jeon Moo-song, Jo Sang-gun, Joo In-young, Jung Jae-woong, Kim Han-na, Kim Hye-yoon, Moon-Song Chon, Park Gyu-chae, Seo Hyun-woo, Ye Soo-jung, Ye Su-jeong, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Yoon Kye-sang, Youn Yuh-jung

Director: E J-yong, Je-yong Lee, Lee Je-Yong

Rating: N/A, Not Rated

Upon the first few minutes of Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life, it’s obvious that the Brothers Quay’s first live-action film is highly unusual. First, it’s entirely black and white, with embellished, serif subtitles translating the initial German. Second, many of the film’s shots take the form of moody, gothic close-ups, reminiscent of 1920s silent films, like when Johannes examines his new pupil’s health, or when Lisa directs Jakob with an animal’s hoof next to his cheek. And third, the plot itself is strange, as the students are taught not to think anything of themselves, with only Jakob questioning their instruction. But there’s a certain beauty in the surreal approach the Brothers Quay takes in adapting the Swiss-German novel, a certain intuitive feel that allows the story to expand past its stilted movement, restrained frames, and the school’s oppressive tutelage. Institute Benjamenta is bizarre, but it’s undeniably a fascinating film, even at its most disturbing.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alice Krige, César Saratxu, Daniel Smith, Gottfried John, Jonathan Stone, Joseph Alessi, Mark Rylance, Peter Lovstrom, Uri Roodner

Director: Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay

This lovely comedy-romance from Ireland is about a closeted gay teen and his lesbian schoolmate who pretend to be in a relationship to avoid being bullied at their school.

This premise makes Dating Amber an original story in a genre in which that's increasingly rare. This is added to the setting, in 1995 rural Ireland, which is executed to gorgeous perfection in everything from the clothes to the music. 

Dating Amber ends up being more coming-of-age than a comedy-romance. It's a tale of friendship and self-acceptance.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Carolan, Ally Ni Chiarain, Anastasia Blake, Andrew Bennett, Arian Nik, Art Campion, Barry Ward, Corey Millar, Emma Willis, Eva O'Connor, Evan O'Connor, Fionn O'Shea, Fionn O'Shea, Ian O'Reilly, Ian O'Reilly, Jonny Woo, Karl Rice, Lauryn Canny, Lola Petticrew, Peter Campion, Sharon Horgan, Shauna Higgins, Simone Kirby, Tara Flynn

Director: David Freyne

Nicole is 22, just out of college, and adrift during her first summer as an “adult.” Tu Dors Nicole (“You’re Sleeping Nicole”) is a French-Canadian take on the late coming-of-age story. Nicole spends most of the summer is her small, sleepy Quebec town lounging around her parents house (they are gone for the summer), occasionally working at the local thrift store, trying to sleep (she’s developed insomnia), and wandering aimlessly around town and the Quebec countryside with her best friend Veronique. The two are joined at the hip (as evidenced by how their bikes are always locked-up together) but the arrival of Nicole’s brother and his bandmates threatens to upend the lifelong relationship between the two; because of this waning friendship Tu Dors has earned comparisons to films like Ghost World and Frances Ha which examine the complexities of young female friendships, particularly when one’s identity is in flux. The film was shot on gorgeous Black & White 35mm film , adding to it’s floating dream-like quality, and boasts a sweet and droll sense of humor. There are occasional touches of the surreal as well — my favorite running gag being the presence of the pre-pubescent Martin, a small boy whose voice has prematurely developed (the voice that comes out of his mouth sounds like that of a world weary 45-year-old) who attempts to woo Nicole with poetic insights such as, “the heart has no age.” This film is a true hidden gem.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexis Lefebvre, Anne-Renee Duhaime, Catherine St-Laurent, Claude Despins, Fanny Mallette, Francis La Haye, Godefroy Reding, Julianne Côté, Luc Senay, Marc-André Grondin, Pierre-Luc Lafontaine, Simon Larouche

Director: Stéphane Lafleur

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated